[mentalhealth-l] Resources for School Staff Responding to a Natural Disaster
smhp at ucla.edu
Tue Sep 2 08:54:20 PDT 2008
September 2, 2008
From: UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
Re: Resources for School Staff Responding to a Natural Disaster
Those concerned with mental health in schools and
addressing barriers to learning and teaching know
there is much to do in the aftermath of the hurricane and evacuations.
As soon as school opens, despite their own
suffering, school personnel will need to hit the
ground running in providing social and emotional
supports for students and staff. Hopefully, they have prepared for this.
And, with the next hurricane on the way and
tornadoes, floods, wildfires and other natural
disasters always a threat, the rest of us need to
use this as another reminder of the need to
prepare before the next event in our locale.
We want to remind everyone that there are a
variety of online resources available for
aftermath support and for planning in
anticipation of future events (see below).
Also, in order to get on top of lessons learned,
we plan to devote our Practitioner Listserv for
the next few weeks to the matter of student and
staff support in anticipation of and in the
aftermath of a natural disaster. If you are not
on this listserv, you may want to sign on. (Just
reply to this and tell us to add you.) And, we
encourage everyone to send us anything they can
share to help those affected already and as aids
for future planning. We will circulate whatever
we get as widely and quickly as feasible.
School Support for Students and Staff Affected by Natural Disaster
On the home page of our website is a circle
"Responding to a Crisis" to provide an easy
access to resources when you most need them. Go to http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu
As natural disasters affect communities and their
schools, we want to make the most relevant
resources easily accessible (i.e., earthquakes,
wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes).
In the links to materials related to "Resources
for Responding to and coping with Hurricane
http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/hurricane.htm , you
will see guides for anticipating the reactions of
students and families and how schools can play a role in recovery.
Here are excerpts from several resources you can link to from this site:
(1) From Hurricane-related Distress, FSU Traumatology Institute (C. Figley)
"There are four phases each with its own set of demands or stressors
I. Anticipation and Preparation: Starts from warning to impact
Human reactions range from panic buying and
preparing to hostile avoidance and denial. Best
to attempt to gain as much control over stress as
possible by making effective preparations...
II. Disaster Impact. Lasts as long as there is perceived immediate danger
Associated with seeking safety and making mental
notes of what was done right to cope and stay
safe. Keep mind occupied, especially if very fearful..
III. Immediate Post-Disaster Impact.
Starts with return to a sense of safety and ends
with a sense of normality. Most dangerous phase
because of effort to return home is risky. There
is a desperate need try to return to normal.
Greatest interests are what happened to my stuff
and loved ones, should we rebuild or vacate, what is best for my family.
Coping with Anxiety During Phase III
Parents must be on the same team and focus on the
welfare of the children first.
Be patient and flexible with children's behavior
and reactions (both physical and emotional).
Kid's reactions (like adults) vary greatly: they
have suffered losses too, and it's natural for
them to express disbelief, anger, sadness, anxiety and depression afterwards.
Emotions of hurricane survivors often follow a
roller coaster pattern of changes in mood,
emotion, energy --- can change unexpectedly.
Children, in particular, resent the shattering of
their routine. That resentment may manifest
itself in enormous guilt, nightmares, temper tantrums and problems at school.
IV. Long-term Post-Disaster Impact.
Starts after a sense of normality and never ends
with elevations. Longest phase is associated with
creating a new normal, grieving the losses,
thankful it was not worse and potential growth,
efforts to recover by drawing upon own personal
and social resources, some need help in doing so.
Most recover completely unless there are other
emotional issues or mental disorders (e.g.,
previous trauma, grief of loss, depression, storm-related phobia)....
Mental health experts say the unscathed often
suffer "survivor's guilt.'' People suffering
survivor's guilt often push themselves to the
limit trying to help. There is a natural
grieving process denial, questioning,
acceptance and recovery -- after the loss of
normalcy, loved ones and property.
(2) From National Association of School
Psychologists, Communique, Vol 33, #4 (F. Zenere)
"Hurricane experiences provide lessons for the future"
...A single natural disaster striking a
particular region has the potential to cause
significant damage, lead to widespread disruption
and displacement, and heighten the level of human misery
...School districts can bolster their readiness
for disaster response and recovery by assuring
that crisis management policy, procedures and
training activities reflect the environmental
challenges common to their communities. Such
actions should include the development of
inter-agency and inter-district collaborative
agreements that foster sharing of human and
material resources during periods of acute need.
Further, equipping school mental health
professionals with the skills to offer guidance
during the post-disaster response and recovery period is paramount.
Response and Recovery
... hurricane impact frequently leads to an
elongated period of school closure. This time
frame can and has been utilized efficiently, to
prepare for the reopening of schools...The
importance of bringing school mental health and
instructional staff back to school well in
advance of students can not be overstated. These
caregivers need the opportunity to share and sort
through their own disaster related experiences
prior to addressing the needs of students.
Further, instructional personnel can be charged
with the responsibility of determining the
current status of their students. Key information
regarding damage to homes, potential relocation,
loss or injury of family members and/or pets, and
food, clothing and school supply needs, is vital
in supporting a child's successful transition back to school.
School facilities are often designated as
disaster evacuation shelter sites. These venues
provide residence for many who have lost their
homes as a result of disaster, and also provide
an opportunity for school officials to assess
family and child needs. Likewise, Disaster
Recovery Centers (DRC) operated by the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are set up in
heavily impacted communities to support the
reestablishment of basic needs and
infrastructure. It is recommended that school
district officials, including mental health
professionals, be present in all DRC's to
disseminate information and provide guidance for
parents seeking support for their children.
With the exception of the resumption of basic
services (e.g., water and electricity) and the
provision of basic needs (e.g., food and
shelter), no other occurrence better represents
the initial phase of a community's post-disaster
recovery than the reopening of schools. The
closing of school triggers a disruption in the
continuity of a child's life, which may lead to
emotional and behavioral destabilization. In
contrast, the return to school can provide a
child with the healing environment of routine and
structure, concrete expectations and
predictability, and peer camaraderie and support;
all of which are essential elements for
reestablishing a sense of safety and security,
and set the foundation for academic achievement.
Although the vast majority of students returning
to school following a hurricane will be impacted
by their disaster experience, very few will
actually be traumatized. Post-disaster reactions
can be best characterized by widespread distress,
moderate behavioral changes and minimal
occurrences of psychopathology. Numerous factors
may influence a child's reaction(s) to storm
exposure, including nature of warning, speed of
onset, proximity, perceived level of threat, fear
of loss of life, exposure to death and
destruction, duration and sensorial perceptions.
Children most at risk for the development of
post-disaster emotional difficulties that impact
functioning are those who feel that their lives,
or the lives of loved ones, are in jeopardy
during the storm. Experiences marked by feelings
of terror and helplessness are also highly
correlated with post traumatic stress
reactions...Children who may have had previous
exposure to, and unresolved issues surrounding,
trauma situations, including disasters, as well
as youth with pre-existing psychopathology, also
demonstrate an elevated risk for post-disaster difficulties.
Additional factors predictive of long-term
emotional impact include children who were very
upset during and after the disaster; those who
lost their home or possessions; those who had to
relocate to new homes and/or schools; and those
children who attended schools that were forced to
move to double sessions or make significant schedule adjustments.
Teachers and parents should be prepared to
confront numerous emotional and behavioral issues
that may influence a student's ability to cope
with their disaster experience and could also
impact school performance. Children of elementary
school age may exhibit a spectrum of post
disaster reactions including a wide array of
fears, regressive behavior, behavioral
difficulties, depressive symptoms and school
difficulties. Following a lengthy period of
school closure, young children may re-experience
separation anxiety issues when leaving their
parents, often out of concern of potential harm
occurring to a family member in their absence.
Other concerns include fear of the dark,
especially if the storm occurred during evening
hours; and for some very young children, a fear
that they may have caused the disaster. The
aforementioned reaction is consistent with the
developmental characteristics of magical thinking
and egocentric perspective, commonplace among
pre-kindergarten to early elementary age children.
A child's ability to concentrate and focus
sustained attention on a task may be especially
compromised. The disaster experience along with a
multitude of environmental disruptions may also
influence the development of hyperactive and/or
general acting out behavior, nightmares and other
sleep disturbances, which in turn may lead to a
decline in academic success. Similarly,
adolescents may demonstrate in-kind reactions
consistent with their elementary age
counterparts. Additionally, teenagers are
increasingly likely to elicit risk behaviors,
including drug use, sexual acting out, dropping
out of school, and antisocial and/or suicidal
behavior, in response to their disaster-related exposure.
Attention must also be directed to the
multiplicity of losses that accompany disaster.
The death of a loved one or pet, destruction of
one's home, missing material possessions or
relocation to a new school all represent tangible
losses that impact recovery. Moreover, intangible
factors including a decline in a child's sense of
safety and security, and eroding trust in
parents/adults as protective agents, further lead
to an increase in emotional distress.
School mental health professionals can perform a
variety of functions that support student
adjustment and resiliency following a disaster
experience. Serving as consultants, advocates,
trainers and interventionists, they possess the
skills that help to provide the foundation for
recovery. The extension of support services is
highly dependent upon the receptivity of school
leadership. Once an invitation is extended, the
mental health professional is in position to
advocate for "best practice" approaches for
addressing the educational, social and emotional
needs of children, families, and school personnel
impacted by the disaster. ...School mental health
professionals should encourage teachers to
maintain the routine and structure familiar to
students prior to the disaster. However, efforts
should be taken to alter workload expectations
and avoid the introduction of new material during
the transitional school reentry period. The
following recommendations are provided for
teachers to assist students in making a
successful return to school in the aftermath of disaster:
· Meet and greet students as they enter the classroom.
· Remain calm and reassuring.
· Acknowledge and normalize feelings/reactions.
· Provide opportunities for children to share their concerns.
· Promote and praise positive coping and problem solving skills.
· Involve children in activities that
permit them to make choices and re-establish some
control over their environment.
· Involve students in recovery-oriented activities and projects.
· Consider the developmental stage and experiences of each child.
· Incorporate disaster-related information into the curriculum.
· Provide collaborative activities that
strengthen student's friendships and support
The judicious use of Psychological First Aid
(PFA) can be a helpful tool for the school mental
health practitioner. PFA can be utilized to
respond to the acute desire to share one's
disaster experiences; provide information
regarding future expectations; provide
information about risk indicators for the
development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD); and examine what symptoms/behaviors
should signal help seeking. When employed
appropriately, PFA may accomplish the following objectives:
· Provide a sense of comfort, calm, reassurance and support
· Provide an accurate account of the individual's experience
· Respect individuals that decline the
opportunity to discuss their experience
· Promote acceptance and validation of reactions and feelings
· Emphasize the importance of social support connections
· Enhance problem solving ability
· Address fears and anxieties
· Reduce stigma and shame
· Disseminate information important to the recovery process
· Emphasize that help is available
Responding to the array of emerging student
symptoms and behaviors will challenge school
personnel during the post disaster period. School
mental health professionals can assist teachers
in providing timely information and guidance for
addressing anticipated features, including
psychosomatic complaints, aggressive or acting
out behaviors, and despondency over disaster-
related losses. Bereavement groups can be
established in schools to provide grieving
students the opportunity to process the
multiplicity of losses that are common outcomes
of natural disaster. The presence of complicated
grief, PTSD, or depressive/suicidal behaviors,
should result in immediate parent/guardian
contact and referral to appropriate community-based mental health resources."
(3) There are several helpful resources from the
National Child Traumatic Stress Center http://www.nctsnet.org
From Recovery: After a Hurricane
"After a hurricane most families can be expected
to recover over time, particularly with the
support of family, friends, and organizations.
The length of recovery will depend upon how
frightening the hurricane was, if evacuation from
home was necessary, and the extent of the damage
and loss. Some families will return to their
normal routine fairly quickly, while others will
have to contend with destruction to their home
and possessions, obtaining medical care, and
overcoming financial hardship. Some families will
have lost a loved one or a pet. Others will need
to adjust to school closings or changes in school schedule.
Children's functioning will be influenced by how
their parents and other caregivers cope during
and after the hurricane. Children often turn to
adults for information, comfort, and help.
Parents and teachers should try to remain calm,
answer children's questions honestly, and respond as best they can to requests.
Children react differently to a hurricane and its
aftermath depending on their age, developmental
level, and prior experiences. Some will respond
by withdrawing, while others will have angry
outbursts. Still others will become agitated or
irritable. Parents should attempt to remain
sensitive to each child's reactions. The
following are typical reactions children might
exhibit during any natural disaster:
· Fear and worry about their safety or the safety of others, including pets
· Fear of separation from family members
· Clinging to parents, siblings, or teachers
· Worry that another hurricane will come
· Increase in activity level
· Decrease in concentration and attention
· Withdrawal from others
· Angry outbursts or tantrums
· Aggression to parents, siblings, or friends
· Increase in physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches
· Change in school performance
· Long-lasting focus on the hurricane, such as
talking repeatedly about it or acting out the event in play
· Increased sensitivity to sounds of thunder, wind, or things crashing
· Changes in sleep patterns
· Changes in appetite
· Lack of interest in usual activities, even playing with friends
· Regressive behaviors, such as baby-talk, bedwetting, or tantrums
· Increase in risky behaviors for teens, such as
drinking alcohol, using substances, harming
themselves, or engaging in dangerous activities
What You Can Do to Help Your Child
Parents should spend time talking to their
children, letting them know that it is okay to
ask questions and to share their worries. Issues
may come up more than once and parents should
remain patient and open to answering questions
again and needing to clarify things. Although it
will be hard finding time to have these
conversations, parents can use regular family
mealtimes or bedtimes to talk. They can let
children know what is happening in the family,
with their school, and in the community. They
should answer questions briefly and honestly and
be sure to ask their children for their opinions
and ideas. For younger children, after talking
about the hurricane, parents might read a
favorite story or have a relaxing family activity
to help them feel more safe and calm.
To help children's recovery, parents should:
> Be a role model. Try to remain calm, so your
child can learn from you how to handle stressful situations.
> Monitor adult conversations. Be aware of what
adults are saying about the hurricane or the
damage. Children may misinterpret what they hear
and be unnecessarily frightened.
> Limit media exposure. Protect your child from
too many images of the hurricane, including those
on television, on the internet, on radio, and in the newspaper.
> Reassure children they are safe. You may need
to repeat this frequently even after the
hurricane passes. Spend extra time with them,
playing games outside, reading together indoors,
or just cuddling. Be sure to tell them you love them.
> Replace lost or damaged toys as soon as you are able.
> Calm worries about their friends' safety. Even
though phones may not be working, reassure your
children that their friends' parents are taking
care of them, just the way they are being taken care of by you.
> Tell children about community recovery.
Reassure children that things are being done to
restore electricity, phones, water, and gas. Tell
them that the town or city will be removing
debris and helping families find housing.
> Take care of your children's health. Help them
get enough rest, exercise, and healthy food. Be
sure they have a balance of quiet and physical activities.
>Maintain regular daily life. Even in the midst
of disruption and change, children feel more
secure with structure and routine. As much as
possible, keep to regular mealtimes and bedtimes.
>Maintain expectations. Stick to your family
rules about good behavior and respect for others.
Continue family chores, but keep in mind that
children may need more reminding than usual.
> Encourage children to help. Children cope
better and recover sooner if they feel they are
helping out. Give them small clean-up tasks or
other ways to contribute. Afterward, provide
activities that are not related to the hurricane,
such as playing cards or reading.
> Be extra patient once children have returned
to school. They may be more distracted and need
extra help with homework for a while.
> Give support at bedtime. Children may be more
anxious at times of separation from parents.
Spend a little more time talking, cuddling, or reading than usual...
> Help with boredom. Daily activities, such as
watching television, playing on the computer, and
having friends over, may have been disrupted.
Extracurricular activities, like sports and or
dance classes, may have been suspended. Help
children think of alternative activities to do...
> Keep things hopeful. Even in the most
difficult situation, it is important to remain
optimistic about the future. Your positive
outlook will help your children be able to see
good things in the world around them. This will
help get them through even the most challenging times.
> Seek professional help if your child still has
difficulties more than six weeks after the hurricane.
From Teacher Guidelines for Helping Students after a Hurricane
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. http://www.NCTSNet.org
"Students who have been through a hurricane often
have difficulties with concentration, attention,
and behavior. Some students may be very quiet and
withdrawn, while others may be disruptive and
overly active. Many will have difficulties with learning.
Modify lesson plans. They may have to be
adapted over the recovery period to reduce the
class''s workload, move at a slower pace, and be more enjoyable.
Communicate with students. Be open to talking
with students about their feelings and concerns
about the hurricane. It is important to provide
accurate factual information to help clarify
misunderstandings and reduce fear. End the
discussion with focus on current safety
procedures and helpful plans for coping.
Know your students'' experiences. It is
important to invite students and parents to let
you know when a student is affected by some
change in his or her personal life so that you
can better understand any change in classroom behavior or school performance.
Share information with others. It is important
for teachers to speak with one another and other
school staff to share information and monitor how students are doing.
Provide structure. Maintain a predictable,
structured class schedule with specific rules and
consequences to provide support and consistency for your students.
Refer distressed students for help. Teachers
should encourage distressed students to meet with
the school counselor, social worker, or nurse.
Encourage your students. Teachers should
encourage students to get appropriate rest and
exercise and to eat a healthy diet.
Set limits on anger. It is especially difficult
for teachers to have students acting irritably or
being disruptive, which may occur after a
hurricane or any distressing event. One way to
handle irritable, disruptive, or aggressive
behavior is to be clear about the behavior that
is expected and reinforce age-appropriate
anger-management and conflict-resolution concepts
to ensure a climate of nonviolence.
Reduce reminders. Teachers should reduce their
student''s exposure to unnecessary reminders of
the hurricane. This includes limiting
teacher-to-teacher conversations about the
hurricane in front of students and limiting their
exposure to television stories and images of the hurricane during class time.
Identify sleep problems. Many students may
suffer from lack of restful sleep. Tired students
often cannot concentrate or learn well and can be
irritable with friends and teachers. If a student
is having any of these problems, it is important
to ask them and their parents or caretakers about their sleep.
Be patient. Recovery comes in stages over weeks
and months. Don''t become discouraged because
some students take more time than others or have temporary setbacks.
Promote prosocial activities. It is very
important to engage preadolescents and
adolescents in prosocial activities to help
rebuild their school community and social life.
Prosocial activities are important to building a
sense of community and citizenship. These
activities can include a project to help improve
their school or neighborhood or a project to help others in their community."
Do you have resources that you would like us to
share with others related to hurricanes or other
natural disasters? Please send them to ltaylor at ucla.edu
Is there something you need as your work with
schools, families, staff, students recovering
from the recent hurricanes? Please let us know. Ltaylor at ucla.edu
As noted above, we plan to follow-up with
specifics on our weekly Mental Health in Schools
Practitioner Listserv. If you would like to be
included in this weekly sharing of specific
concerns and sharing from mental health in
schools practitioners, please let us know. Just
reply to this email or Email smhp at ucla.edu and
ask to be added to the Practitioners' Listserv.
School Mental Health Project/
Center for Mental Health in Schools
UCLA Dept. of Psychology
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563
(310) 825-3634 / Toll Free: (866) 846-4843 / Fax: (310) 206-8716
Email: smhp at ucla.edu
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Mentalhealth-l